Rookie school ‘heats up’ for recruits
By Melanie Ruberti
LaGRANGE – Flames reaching several stories high exploded into the night sky at the LaGrange Fire Department training center off Fort Drive on Thursday.
A pressurized tank containing liquid petroleum was on fire and it was the firefighter’s duty to cool the container and shut off the gas valve – or face intense heat and flames from another explosion.
The six-man crew battled the blaze using the skills and knowledge they learned in the LaGrange Fire Department’s annual rookie school. The rookies wrapped up their fourth week of training with live fire exercises.
“It’s intense and really fast paced,” said LaGrange firefighter Rich Mounts. “Everything from the search and rescue exercises to the live fire attacks.”
“This is the most elaborate exercise we’ve done so far in the school,” stated LaGrange firefighter Joseph Livingston. “There’s a lot of moving parts.”
The rookies rotated through a variety of positions: attacking the blaze on the hose lines from the right, middle and left, plus being the lead firefighter to reach into the fire and turn off the container valve.
“We had to work as a team, as a unit and control the hoses,” Livingston explained. “If you were the ‘lead man,’ you had to stand between the two attack lines and make sure they were in line with each other … communication was key.”
LFD instructors stood alongside the crew to make sure firefighters were performing each task correctly. The rookies will have to receive state certification in pressurized container fire control, stated LFD officials.
The six-man team faced a simulated flammable liquid spill, search and rescue of potential victims from a burning building using just their hands and eyes; then with thermal imaging equipment. Rookies also doused out burning cars and dumpster fires.
“We’re asking them to put themselves in unpredictable situations,” explained Lt. Rob Vael, head of LFD’s training division. “We try to put them in the safest positions, but we need to know they have the physical and mental skillset to get the job done … During their training, we show them the rudimentary form of firefighting because even technology can fail or malfunction.
“A lot of this (exercises) is making sure what to do right – and what they (rookies) are doing wrong,” Vael added.
“You may run the same call one hundred times, but nothing about your response to the call will be the same,” stated Mounts.
The rookies worked through Thursday night and well into Friday morning.
“I’m very proud of this group right now,” said Vael. “They’re really gelling as a team.”
While it was a grueling 24 hours for the six rookie firefighters, many said the hands on training only solidified their decision to join the fire service.
“… It’s the best job in the world,” said Livingston. “I wouldn’t do anything else. To see people smile when you help them is the best feeling in the world.”
The rookies will take their final exams in May.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.
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